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The eyebrows charm tourists at Wiveton’s Mr Normal for Norfolk

Desmond MacCarthy and his trademark eccentrically excellent eyebrows stands in front of a painting of Wiveton Hall and its outbuildings
Wiveton Hall owner Desmond MacCarthy and his trademark eccentrically excellent eyebrows

A family doctor many years ago said his Norfolk surgery used the initials NFN in patients’ medical notes. NFN (Normal for Norfolk) was meant to be amusing shorthand for anyone displaying quirky or eccentric behaviour.

NFN gained national currency when it was adopted as the title for a highly entertaining two-part BBC 2 documentary series in 2016 and 2017. The programme charted the life and exploits of one of North Norfolk’s more colourful landowners, Desmond MacCarthy.

Desmond very much played up to his eccentric behaviour and his spectacular eyebrows made him a natural television star. The eyebrows became so famous that they spawned their own range of mugs, tea towels and comedy sunglasses promoting Desmond MacCarthy’s 17th century Wiveton Hall home near Blakeney which he inherited from his grandparents at the age of 15.

The Jacobean-built hall overlooks the wide-ranging marshes
The Jacobean-built hall overlooks the wide-ranging marshes of North Norfolk

The BBC series features his struggles to keep his home and farming business afloat while maintaining the country traditions of his childhood. It charts his life and background in turning Wiveton Hall from a struggling farm into a ‘must-visit’ landmark on North Norfolk’s tourist trail.

Desmond put Wiveton Hall, on the A149 between Blakeney and Cley, on the tourist map through hard work and trading on his eccentric behaviour – and his distinctive eyebrows.

The location, within North Norfolk’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the views are fantastic. And the food served in the hall's cafe , with its majestic views to the sea, is outstanding.

The parish of Wiveton is steeped in history - as is Wiveton Hall. The name Wiveton is thought to have derived from the Old English meaning 'Wife's or Wifa's enclosure'. The parish was established by the time of the Norman Conquest and was a busy place well into the late 1600s.

Desmond’s home has seen many changes in the area both socially and economically as sea trade rose and fell.

But he has created a unique venue with stunning sea views across unspoiled saltmarshes with his warm welcome to visitors, hosting house tours, and offering good fresh seasonal food in the ever-popular the cafe. It is the perfect spot for lunch or tea and cake - and evening suppers.

The ever-popular cafe stands within the hall's grounds
The ever-popular cafe stands within the hall's grounds

Visitors can join Desmond on tours of the gardens or visit the small shop stocked with locally-sourced jams, chutneys, cordials, home-made goodies, baskets, kitchenware, prints, art, crafts and country plants.

Most people come for good homemade food in a relaxed yet breathtaking setting.

The cafe is set out on sandy ground with brightly coloured tables and chairs under pine trees. It gives a cheerful feeling of being in some wonderfully secret part of the world with tons of room for parents and children to explore.

Free-roaming free-range hens scratch the ground, sheep graze, and pigs in the nearby wood enjoy their rootling and mud baths. And within yards of the outdoor tables are the fields which have produced much of the cafe’s produce.

The changing seasonal menu and freshly-baked cakes unsurprisingly has entertained Norfolk food goddess Delia Smith and the Princess of Wales, Kate Middleton.

Grade II listed Wiveton Hall, dating from 1652, hosted six-year-old Prince Philip, at the time the Prince of Denmark, to his first Norfolk holiday. The prince later enjoyed strong Norfolk links with Sandringham the Norfolk home he shared with Queen Elizabeth II.

Wiveton Hall is flint-faced with Dutch gables. It provides an oasis of tranquillity from the hustle and bustle elsewhere. Opening times for the cafe varies with the season. The venue also offers some special evening dining with wood fired pizzas, Italian evenings, tapas or a BBQ.

Visitors can stay at the Hall in the West wing or in nearby holiday cottages. The West wing is also available for weddings and special events.

A woman wearing an apron holds a plate of huge hot cross buns. She is serving at Wiveton Hall's cafe with large cakes around her
Whether tea and cake, lunch or supper - food is locally sourced and homemade

But beyond the eccentricities, Desmond MacCarthy, born in the Jacobean Wiveton Hall, has a passion for the environment.

He has transformed his business from fruit picking and farming into a successful tourist destination with the countryside at its heart.

He believes in the importance of sustainability within the tourism sector and how tourism has to engage with sourcing locally and reducing its carbon footprint.

The fruit fields, the old barn, the canopy of pines giving shade to boldly coloured tables and chairs scattered beneath, give more than a hint of the Mediterranean. This and much more is what makes Wiveton Hall one of Norfolk’s most talked-about eateries.

Wiveton Hall is still very much a working farm across 250 acres. But, like many Norfolk landowners, the family has diversified. There is nothing eccentric about Desmond MacCarthy's successfully diversified business.

Wiveton Hall Café and Shop

Coast Road, Wiveton, Holt, NR25 7TE

Tel 01263 740515

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